Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Author Haryoto Kunto's home a bookworm's paradise

By YR Prahista

BANDUNG (JP): When Haryoto Kunto died on Oct. 4, 1999, few people realized that he left as his legacy an invaluable cultural and scientific treasure.

The author of Wajah Bandung Tempo Doeloe (The Face of Bandung in the Olden Days, 1984) and Semerbak Bunga di Bandung Raya (Fragrance of Flowers in Greater Bandung, 1986) left behind in his old, rather unkempt house at Jl. Haji Mesrie 5 over 30,000 titles of books and other reading materials on a wealth of topics.

In his lifetime, Kunto was known to be knowledgeable about the history, architecture and other aspects of his birthplace, Bandung, which led to him receiving the nickname kuncen (gatekeeper) of the city.

His collection of books includes materials on the Sundanese people of West Java and their cultural and natural wealth. A book on the Sundanese language which was popular in the 1950s, Rusdi jeung Misnem, is one of many items in his collection that cannot be found elsewhere.

His wife, Etty Haryoto Kunto, said some 45 percent of the books in her husband's collection were in English, 20 percent in Dutch and the rest in Indonesian and regional languages. Kunto spoke Javanese as his mother tongue and also mastered Sundanese.

Kunto's collection also includes about 50 sets of various encyclopedias. This collection is outstanding in that it contains books on ethnic groups across Indonesia by Dutch Indonesianists such as F.Y. Veth, F de Haan, H.A. van Hien, H.H. Juynboll, Clive Day, F.D.K. Bosch, B. Schrieke, W. Fruin Mees, J. Gontha, C.C. Berg, Brandes, Krom, P.J. Zoetmulder, J. Kats, S. Coolsma, C. Hooykas, W.F. Stutterheim and K.A.H. Hidding.

These books on Indonesian studies are rare in terms of their age and contents. Some of them are already a century old and many are out of print; some of the publishers have gone out of business.

Kunto, an alumnus of the School of City Planning of Bandung Institute of Technology, was a bookworm when he was small.

"He preferred not to buy snacks rather than not buying books," reminisced Us Tiarsa Riestu, a childhood friend of Kunto's and now the chairman of the West Java chapter of the Indonesian Association of Journalists (PWI).

He would go anywhere in his search for books.

"We often met at the secondhand book market on Jl. Cikapundung and Palasari Market," said Her Suganda, Kompas reporter in Bandung. He described Kunto as someone with a network of old book vendors.

"As soon as these secondhand book traders came across old books, they would offer them to Kunto first before selling them to other people," he added.

Kunto's huge collection of books made his home resemble a library instead of a residence. Books were scattered everywhere, piled on chairs and the dining table. Although some were neatly stacked in a simple cupboard, others were pushed under the bed or put in the kitchen.

Researchers and scholars would visit the home in search of references.

"If he needed a particular book, he would always know where it was," Etty said.

The concern is that the collection could be damaged due the state of disrepair of the home, built in the 1920s. There are leaks in several places, which is a problem during the rainy season.

"If I didn't want to be bothered, I could just sell this collection. Many foreigners are interested in buying it," said Etty.

Several government agencies have also offered to preserve the books. A number of libraries, like the one at ITB, also expressed willingness to take the collection.

However, Etty, an English teacher at a state secondary school in Bandung, is determined to establish a library and a museum in memory of her husband. "I would like to realize Mas Harry's ambition which he had yet to materialize even at the end of his life, " she said.

"Even three days before his death, Kunto, by then already confined to his bed at Advent Hospital in Bandung, still talked about this ambition," said Her Suganda.

Unfortunately, a year after Kunto's death his ambition has yet to be materialized.

"I fear that if they are neglected too long, these books will eventually be damaged. They're made of paper after all," Etty said.

The dream may soon become a reality; a working committee led by A. Harso W. Witono is endeavoring to build the library and museum of Haryoto Kunto. "Our only asset is enthusiasm."

The plan is for a two-story building, with an office, museum and a special library of rare books. A library of regular titles will occupy the second floor.

"The committee will work only until the construction of the building is completed. Then the building will be handed over to a foundation to be established by the Kunto family," said Witono, a young businessman from Bandung.

He estimated the construction of the building for libraries and a museum will need some Rp 1 billion.

"We will facilitate the construction of this building," said Bandung municipality chief AS Tarmana in a discussion on "Remembering Haryoto Kunto's Collection and Works", held by Pikiran Rakyat daily here in cooperation with Rumah Nusantara in late September.

Witono said most of the funding was expected to come from the public and he hoped concerned citizens would contribute to help Kuncen's dream become a reality.